Our History

A Short History of Native Americans in Lake County

Lake County Pomo Indians are direct descendants of the Pomos that have historically inhabited the Clear Lake area for over 11,800 years. Pomos had been fishermen and hunters, known especially for their intricate basketry made from lakeshore tules and other native plants and feathers.

In 1851 local tribal leaders met with a representative of the President of the United States, and all agreed upon a treaty that established several reservations around Clear Lake. On July 8, 1852 the United States Senate, in executive session, refused to ratify this and several other California treaties and ordered them filed under an injunction of secrecy that was not removed until January 18, 1905, 53 years later. At this same time Congress passed the Land Claims Act of 1851 that required claims to all lands in California be presented within two years of the date of the act. Tribal leaders were unaware of the need to present their claims and failed to meet the statutory deadline. Deprived of protected legal title to their lands by treaty or formal claim, these ancestors became landless. Years later the various Pomo bands around the lake were given small parcels of land called rancherias. In 1914 the U.S. Department of the Interior repurchased some land for the tribes and in 1936 the Indian Reorganization Act provided the tribes federal recognition.

In 1963 the tribal governments in the state were again illegally terminated under the California Rancheria Act of 1959. The tribes were subsequently reestablished by court order as federally recognized tribal entities in 1983 under the Tillie Hardwick v. United States of America judgment. But during that 20-year period most of the original rancheria lands were lost, often sold by the Lake County tax collector to non-Indians for back taxes. Many of the adults were relocated to urban areas for job training, and the children were sent to Indian boarding schools where their hair was cut and they were prohibited from speaking their native Pomo language, Bahtssal. Lake County tribes are still rebuilding to this day, enabling their tribal members to return to their ancestral lands. In the early and mid 1980’s the tribes began the process of reconstituting their rights of self-determination by reforming their governing policies and procedures. They continue to repurchase their lands from surrounding private owners, often with the help of federal grant funds. This huge effort is being made in an attempt to bring all tribal members home. The mission of the Lake County Tribal Health Consortium, the provision of necessary and culturally appropriate health services to all Native Americans, is crucial towards the success of this reunification movement.